"There is a way for retailers to re-shape the apparel purchase journey"

"There is a way for retailers to re-shape the apparel purchase journey"

"Enhancing the customer journey…," "adopting a more personalised approach…," "the importance of data…," – when it comes to articulating how brands can improve their customer strategies, some phrases seem to be trotted out if not interchangeably, then generically. Best intentions abound, but specific strategies still appear thin on the ground. But "fit" offers apparel retailers and brands a clear, some would say natural, way forward. Stuart Simms, chief executive of fit preference specialist Fits.me explains.

Just a few years ago, no-one thought it would be possible to sell clothes online successfully, not least because it was impossible to touch, feel or try on the clothes before buying them. Of course, despite these apparent drawbacks, history has proved the doubters very wrong indeed.

But the perpetual drive to increase the slickness of the apparel purchase journey – "Never mind fit, read the size chart"; "Here are our bestsellers"; "Quick, take it to checkout, only one left"; "People who bought that also bought…"; "No friction, no friction, no friction" – has at least coincided with, perhaps even been part-responsible for, the emergence of customer loyalty as one of the major issues facing retailers.

It should be little surprise. Friction-free web stores are, perhaps, the antithesis of a customer-centric experience: when there is no opportunity for emotional engagement, no personalisation, nothing specifically tailored for the individual visitor, there can be little generation of loyalty.

Clear way forward

But there is a clear way forward for apparel retailers; a means of re-shaping the apparel purchase journey via a tried-and-tested, trusted means: fit. Fit – that elusive combination of objective measurements and subjective preferences and perceptions – enables retailers to restore customer-centricity to the apparel purchase journey, especially online, meeting shopper expectations and delivering valuable insight to inform equally customer-centric decision-making across the business.

Analysis of such a vast sample enables us to be certain that fit preference knowledge is central to having the genuine one-to-one conversations that both sides dream of, across multiple channels, about the brand, centred on each shopper's individual fit preferences – the "thing" that makes them different.

While retailers' abilities to activate fit insight will vary between prospective, casual, regular and lapsed customers, fit data can be deployed to improve any apparel retailer's level of customer-centricity in any or all of the following ways:

By energising personalisation strategies
Fit data can be used to populate marketing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems with a rich stream of each customer's most unique attributes. For example, a marketing department may consider the electronic delivery of 10,000 individualised versions of an email, rather than create a single email for 10,000 individuals. It enables personalised recommendations and, on-site, experience curation and navigation.

By exceeding shopper expectations
What we're talking about here is: do customers want such fit-based personalisation? According to research we've just conducted with 2,000 UK clothes shoppers, 72% of said they "often", "sometimes", or "occasionally" find it difficult to locate an outfit they are looking for; 6% said they "always" find it difficult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, 78% of the shoppers surveyed claimed that their choice would be greatly eased by being shown clothes they knew would fit. The conclusion must be that the personalisation enabled by fit insight is a welcome addition to the customer experience. 

By generating critical operational insight
Fit data at scale enables retailers to change what they think they know about their customers into what they actually know. The potential financial benefit from buying or manufacturing the right number of garments in the right sizes alone, are vast, with further insight informing from garment design, merchandising, post-sales and even and in-store design.

January's eConsultancy Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing found that 44% of retailers agreed that omni-channel personalisation would become a reality in 2015. Yet the results of its September study showed that less than one-fifth (17%) of organisations believe they are capable of analysing their customers' journeys. Clearly retailers still need to invest in systems which will drive better and more meaningful customer relationships in the short- and long-term. It may seem difficult, but the road to more engaged and loyal customer journeys can begin with a single step. For apparel retailers it need not be a step forwards into the unknown, but backwards – back to a concept at the heart of clothing and fashion with which both they and their customers are familiar. 

About the author:
Stuart Simms has worked with technology companies for over 22 years and held senior leadership positions at corporates such as Microsoft, where he was the director responsible for building the mobile division across Middle East & Africa, and Rackspace where he built the International Cloud division, which launched the RAX Cloud and Cloud Managed Services in the UK. His expertise lies in building and (re-)structuring high-growth technology (cloud) companies, driving the strategy/company agenda to deliver clear propositions, structured product life-cycle and engaging staff through a clarity of mission.